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Go 4 It

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer 17:54, Monday, 16 March 2009

The demise of Go 4 It is in some ways a sad moment. It is not merely the loss of a programme - but the loss of a specific, regularly scheduled attempt to engage children with Radio 4 and the joys of radio in general. I know some will think we should persist in broadcasting the programme on the grounds that it is the BBC's job to cater for small audiences - particularly when the market won't provide anything.

But the problem is that the children's audience for the programme was just so small that the market failure argument, which I respect, does not in this instance hold water. At one point last year RAJAR (the impartial body that measures radio audiences) indicated that more or less no children at all were tuning in. It's true that the figure rose a little in the last quarter of 2008 - but over a long period it's been horribly clear that we are making a perfectly good programme - but for an adult audience. The average age of the audience is in the 50s.

Of course it might be desirable for children to switch to the intelligent items planned and produced by the team - but I can't pretend that children are interested in this sort of radio when they largely are not. The omnipresence of images is a fact of life - like the existence of 24 hour news channels or mobile phones. And that's where children now turn. That is not the case for adults - where Radio 4's audience has help up well over many years and millions prefer it to TV.

I feel some nostalgia for an era where Listen With Mother had an audience of millions (though I was not brought up with it and still found the joys of speech radio) but I do not think that the world has gone to the dogs because of the absence of this kind of radio. By all accounts the BBC's children's TV channels (CBeebies and CBBC) provide a good service. That much is said by the recent BBC Trust report on BBC childrens' output - which is also interesting on the subject of children's radio.

We will be trying to get children interested in some plays we will run on Radio 4 throughout the year and we will be transmitting them in the mainstream Radio 4 schedule when we think they might be around to listen. We have already commissioned Roald Dahl's Matilda for next Christmas, Black Hearts in Battersea, Emil and the Detectives and The Wizard of Oz. For Clearly we need to aim the trailing at the parents too. They are probably still the 'gatekeepers.'

We will still be broadcasting children's radio programmes on BBC Radio 7 and hope that by moving the three hour bloc from the afternoons to the mornings we will get more of a children's audience - but that's far from being guaranteed. For older children there will be an hour of readings every weekday afternoon. They are currently transmitted in the mornings.

UPDATE:

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Surely it is time for BBC Radio 8, a dedicated children's service?

    Even if it using a mono, low-bandwidth service on DAB, or uses space on the Digital 1 multiplex, it really must be time to have a dedicated service.

    For one thing, BBC Radio 7 would be a much better adult service if the children's programmes were removed. Even if the existing schedule was repeated during these hours!

    If there was a dedicated BBC Radio 8 for children, it could have CBeebies radio as daytime service with a "CBBC" audience for breakfast and late afternoon.

    A CBBC service could have "Newsround" on each hour.

    The evening could be a speech-based service for teenagers, perhaps with shorter "remixed" versions of suitable programmes from Radio 4, such as "Material World" or "Living Planet".

  • Comment number 2.

    The Christmas programming you've mentioned is all from my childhood, and I'm pushing fifty. Wouldn't you be more likely to attract children with something more current? My daughter, who's ten, enjoys Michelle Paver, Jaqueline Wilson and Darren Shan -I'm sure there are plenty of others. It's time to replace Just William with Horrid Henry.

  • Comment number 3.

    In the first Guardian article that you linked to, you said:

    "It was attracting a fraction of a fraction of children in the country," said Damazer. "While there is certainly life with podcasts and CDs, the fact is that it is incredibly hard for linear listening to find an audience with children."

    I'm curious as to why you didn't try Go4It as a podcast before cancelling it?

  • Comment number 4.

    Also, shouldn't you post a message on the Go 4 It website saying that it's been cancelled? Currently, there's no indication that it's ended.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/gfi/

  • Comment number 5.

    Having read the Guardian article more closely, I see that it ends on 24 May, not immediately. You might want to clarify that in your post as not everyone will read the Guardian article.

  • Comment number 6.

    Sorry for yet another post, but it also might be good to link to the press release announcing the changes:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2009/03_march/17/childrens.shtml

  • Comment number 7.

    @andrew646 thanks for the link suggestions. will do (Jem Stone - BBC Radio host)

  • Comment number 8.

    The makers of 'Dead Ringers' will be gutted and 'sick as parrots'..

    However, it is pleasing to see that the 'Go 4 ..' idea will live on in some form to give the satirists some further targets for their work...

    http://www.gofourth.co.uk/

  • Comment number 9.

    If you are looking for a replacement programme, here's an idea:

    http://futureproof.olib.co.uk/2009/03/17/what-should-replace-go-4-it/

    Best wishes,


    Olly

  • Comment number 10.

    @andrew646 Press office link added! Thanks.

  • Comment number 11.

    Fascinating idea @Researcher196121. You should see a link to your blog post from the list in the right-hand column of this blog byt now. Thanks for your contribution.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • Comment number 12.

    @lordBeddGelert: Unfortunately, Dead Ringers looks like it's been cancelled :(

    Also, the original presenter, Matt Smith (not to be confused with the next Doctor Who) was the one who said 'Ace' a lot (according to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Smith_%28broadcaster%29 , I wasn't listening to Radio 4 back then) so they'd have to find a new angle anyway.

    @Olly: That does sound like a good idea, certainly more interesting than another "recorded discussion programme"...

    @bowbrick: The link to Olly's blog post doesn't seem to have shown up yet (I assume in the "Bookmarks" section?).

  • Comment number 13.

    I wonder if it really matters.
    Children these days like more TV and computers and more technology than the radio. They are raised to watch colours and movement, both of them absent in radio (in any radio, not only radio 4).
    So it looked like an illusion that Go4it would be successful.
    Leave them to grow up and when tired of technology, they will find radio 4 :-).

  • Comment number 14.

    Am I a lone voice? I'm really pleased to hear the end of Go4It. It's rare that I have to re-tune my radio from R4 but 7.15pm on Sundays is that time - it's even forced me to watch Top Gear instead on occasion!

  • Comment number 15.

    @loislaneleeds: You're certainly not alone, judging by the reactions of some on the Message Board:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbradio4/F2766774?thread=6414577

  • Comment number 16.

    You should have had a live phone-in presented by a pop star with verbalised twitter feeds etc. You should have taken advantage of radio's unique capacity to be agile.

    This radio show sounded like Blue Peter with a walking stick.

  • Comment number 17.

    My family love listening to Go 4 it we all listen after the Archers on a Sunday evening and I am so glad that there has been something on Radio 4 for them.

    They are the next generation, if you don't provide any children's programmes how can you ever think that they will learn to love the radio.

  • Comment number 18.

    I guess that it is worth pointing out that Radio 3 dropped its children's programme, 'Making Tracks', as well, Mark.

    I think that it is difficult to find ways of connecting with a younger audience, and all I can suggest is more of a non-linear approach.

    The Doctor Who prom, for example, brought a younger audience to classical music, although they are unlikely to tune into Radio 3 in vast numbers.

    The best bet for Radio 4, in my view, is to collaborate with other BBC programmes which do reach a younger audience.

    Cheers! c. ;)

  • Comment number 19.

    My three year old is too young for Go4It, so won't miss it, but she's a big fan of CBeebies Radio on Radio 7.

    But not as much of a fan as she is of the Now Show! Whenever I turn on the radio (usually R4) she asks whether it's time for the Now Show yet. We had difficult times in our house when it was the News Quiz's turn! And of course she has a high recognition of the Archers theme-tune, like any small child in a Radio 4 household. (She quite likes Classic FM too, if you don't mind me saying so.)

    I mention all this because children's radio does seem quite a complex thing, and young children quite often enjoy radio aimed at adults. Children's TV is a different matter, you can clearly see which programmes are aimed at which age-groups and kids can spot programmes for their profile a mile off, but radio does seem to be rather more blended. (This is a similar conclusion to Martin Kelner in the Guardian, but it is my experience as well.)

  • Comment number 20.

    I am not entirely displeased that Go4It is about to go. I love the programme; I listen to it every weekend whilst cooking Sunday dinner. But I am 46 years old; my daughter, Katie who is 11 point-blank refuses to listen to it, even if I've drawn her attention to a featured topic in which she would otherwise be very interested. "It's boring dad" is the ubiquitous reply.

    She has a point. The content is rarely engaging for all of its intended audience. Moreover, whilst I do not subscribe to notions of caste and class, it is clearly evident that the programme only caters for middle-class or otherwise priviledged children. This is reinforecd by the content matter and the clearly exclusive make-up of invited child participants in the studio. Those accents and the vocabulary used give much away about their backgrounds. I have yet to hear a working class, or otherwise socially excluded child's voice on Go4It. Quite surprising, given the Merseyside roots of its presenter, Barny. He'll certainly miss the programme as its evidnet from his enthusiasm during the programmes that he loves what he does and, to be fair, he really does engage with the children in the studion. Somehow, I doubt he will be taking a place in the dole queue. I hope he may encourge his superiors to find a suitable replacemnt platform.

    It is a great shame that this sole childrens' programe on Radio 4 has for so long failed to engage a broad sphere of children in the wonderful world of talk radio. Yet, for that reason alone, it should go.

  • Comment number 21.

    The argument is specious. If your children's program attracts adults, then you don't need to rebadge the slot and commission a new programme, you just need to rebadge the slot. If you want to move the goalposts, you don't need to redefine the game.

    Go4It attracts an adult audience for good reason - in part, at least, it explores issues and current events from a children's perspective, which is valuable for both the people who are children and the vast majority of people who aren't. Even adults blessed without children have to interact with them sometimes, and the counterbalance Go4It's provided for the perceptions of children that are common in this part of south-east London has helped diminish some of the natural fear and loathing. As a programme aimed at children, Go4It's been a failure. As a programme about (and partly by) children, it's been a respectable success.

    If you have to replace it with adult-orientated programming, then there's no reason it shouldn't focus on children's issues. Despite the novelty of a Children's Minister in government, children have no voice in the world of adult-targetted broadcasting, and hardly a presence at all unless they are dead. Even an adult might think that unfair.

  • Comment number 22.

    I am SO glad it's gone. It ruined early Sunday evenings. It was a 'turner-offer' in the same league as The Archers, Something Understood and the weird chanting thing from churches on Sunday mornings

  • Comment number 23.

    It is a great disappointment to my family that Go4it is being cut. My 7 year old was just becoming interested in the radio because of Go4it and she looked forward to sunday evenings. It was a great alternative to the vast amounts of visual stimulation that kids subject themselves too and something that she and I could enjoy together. Whoever carried out the market research and told Radio 4 that no children were listening got it sadly wrong. Is it too late for the powers that be to change their mind?!
    Yours hopefully...

  • Comment number 24.

    As a primary school Head Teacher I found 'Go For It' laughable as a vehicle for engaging children with radio media. A comment above called it 'Blue Peter with a Walking Stick' and I entirely agree. The desperate attempts to be 'cool' were embarrassing, vicariously, to listen to.

    There is a possibility that Radio 4 is not a forum for children and that is not a bad thing. It doesn't have to attract children it just needs to attract their parents. Then those children will listen, as adults, because their parents did.

    Is that too long term for targets?

  • Comment number 25.

    My daughter, aged 10, really enjoyed Go4IT, espeically when Barney Harwood was presenting, and she is devastated that it is going. It was the only radio program aimed at kids like her and it is hard to explain to her how this is fair when there are so many programs for adults. She loves CBBC television and internet too, and has no problem including radio in the media she chooses. Yes I cringed at it a little, but I am not 10. She loved it and I think it is a tragedy that the bbc has given up on something which really hit the spot. I really hope they will think again about this

  • Comment number 26.

    Here's an edited version of an email I just sent Mark Damazer.

    A couple of weekends ago, I had to tell my 8-year old son that Go For It would no longer be running. He burst into tears. He asked why and I told him that Mark Damazer, who runs Radio 4, had decided that because not enough children listen to it, it wasn't worth doing any longer. His initial response was "I hate Mark Damazer", but a more considered response was "But there must be some children who like it? Don't children matter on the radio?"

    According to the BBC's own figures there are on average 22000 children in his age bracket listening. A public service broadcaster should only withdraw a service for a minority if that minority is well-served elsewhere. According to audience figures for Radio 3, in the average hour there are only about 70000 people listening*, and yet that is considered enough to justify an entire radio station. Yet you apparently cannot justify 30 minutes of children's broadcasting despite having 22000 listeners.

    Don't tell me it's about balancing the needs of listeners. Radio 4's total audience is about 10 million people a week. So these 22000 are about 0.22% of the audience. They have 30 minutes out of about 140 hours of programming - or about 0.35% of the available programming time. Doesn't look that disproportionate to me in the context of reaching an audience which by the BBC's own admission is hard to reach.

    I hear it is to be replaced with an adult discussion programme. Don't we have plenty of those already on Radio 4? Why throw out something unique in favour of something you have almost every day? A public service broadcaster does not need to chase ratings, and that audience of 50+year-olds is already incredibly well-served on Radio 4.

    The press release says that Radio 4 is committed to family-friendly listening, and then lists some drama and story programmes. The comments above point to readings on Radio 7. That's good, but where's the factual programming?

    My discussion with my son took place after an absolutely excellent programme in which David Starkey discussed the life of Henry VIII with schoolchildren. Tell me where else my child, or we as a family, can listen to programmes of this quality - interesting, age-appropriate, factual discussion, especially on history and science? Don't we think that kind of programming is worth doing? Is the BBC saying that this is not an audience which should not be served on radio, even if it isn't very large? If you don't do it, who will?

    Children like my son are the Radio 4 listeners of tomorrow. I grew up listening to Radio 4's children's programmes, and have listened to Radio 4 throughout my adult life. I only hope my son will do the same - at the moment every time he hears the "This is Radio 4" announcement, he says "I hate Radio 4."


    * figures from http://www.mediauk.com/radio/rajar/311/bbc-radio-3 - BBC Radio 3 attracts 11512000 hours of listening per week which equals an average of c. 68500 listeners per hour.

 

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